With its Christmas trees and free concerts, West Vancouver‘s Dundarave Festival of Lights is a great place to enjoy holiday festivities on the North Shore.
Christmas in West Vancouver
Billed as the “Ultimate Canadian Christmas” and running for over 25 years, the Dundarave Festival of Lights is a quiet winter holiday festival on most days, but especially interesting on Saturdays during their free concerts (at least in years when they are allowed to happen).
In years when there isn’t a pandemic, over the course of the month as many as 55,000 people turn out to celebrate the season and admire the festival’s Christmas trees and holiday decorations.
When, What and Where
In 2019, the Dundarave Festival of Lights ran from November 30th until the end of December. In 2020 it ran for the month of December, but in a more limited format because of COVID-19. 2021 dates and details are to be confirmed.
The Dundarave Festival of Lights is usually located at Dundarave Park in West Vancouver, right at the waterfront by 150-25th Street. That’s where the trees are located most years and where the live events take place. 2020, however, was different.
In 2020 there were no festival-related live events, at Dundarave or elsewhere in the area. Also, the trees were spread out over three different venues. The majority of decorated trees were at Dundarave Beach. About 18 or so more were at Millennium Park (at the bottom of 15th Street), and another dozen or so were at Grosvenor Ambleside (at 1355 Bellevue Avenue).
Every year the North Shore festival hosts the Forest of Miracles which features dozens of decorated Christmas trees. Most years, although not in 2020, the festival also puts on four Saturdays of free afternoon concerts. Also famous at the venue is the Dundarave Nativity, which is a life-sized nativity scene by master woodcarver Bill Seminoff.
The nativity scene was on display again in 2020, as of around the first weekend in December. The free afternoon concerts, however, won’t be happening again until at least 2021.
The best times to visit the Dundarave Festival of Lights are during the concerts on Saturdays in the afternoons, in years when they take place, and at night when the Forest of Miracles is all lit up. Most evenings you’ll find lots of decorated trees, but not a lot of people.
Heading to Dundarave in the late afternoon is also really nice. You can see the Christmas trees in the daylight and then go for a walk along the seawall towards Ambleside. You can then walk back to Dundarave at around dusk, so in time to see the trees again with all their lights at night.
Forest of Miracles
The Forest of Miracles at the Dundarave Festival of Lights features a collection of dozens of beautifully decorated Christmas trees. It’s a festive fundraising attraction where local businesses, organizations and residents make a donation to the Lookout Society’s North Shore Shelter and then decorate their sponsored Christmas tree.
The collection of trees in the Forest of Miracles is a sight to see and all for a great cause. It’s also a nice addition to what is already one of the most beautiful places in the entire Lower Mainland.
Forest of Miracles Video
To give you an idea of what to expect with respect to the Christmas trees, check out the following video. It features scenes of the Forest of Miracles both during the day and at night. As you’ll see, both the Christmas trees and the area in general are beautiful!
The video was taken at the beginning of December in 2020. We arrived at around 4 pm, took some video, and then went for a walk along the seawall. We returned about an hour later, at dusk, and then filmed until it was dark. The winter sunset at Dundarave alone was worth the trip!
Saturday Concerts & Events
In years when there isn’t a pandemic, free concerts take place at the Dundarave Festival of Lights on Saturdays leading up to Christmas. Below is what happened in 2019. 2021 details will likely be similar.
- November 30th, 2019 – Dundarave Christmas Fair (from noon until dusk).
- December 7th, 2019 – Dundarave Nativity Paddle Songs (from noon until dusk).
- December 14th, 2019 – Dundarave’s World Christmas (from noon until dusk).
- December 21st, 2019 – Christmas Wassail & Bonfire Night (from 3:00 until 9:30 pm).
Below is a description about each of the above events.
Dundarave Christmas Fair
The Dundarave Christmas Fair usually takes place on a Saturday afternoon close to the beginning of December. This is the day that Christmas tree sponsors come out and decorate their trees. The trees won’t look impressive until the end, after they are all decorated, but there is typically live entertainment to keep things entertaining.
In 2019 the Dundarave Christmas Fair happened on Saturday, November 30th. In 2020 there wasn’t an event where everyone gathers at the same time to do the decorating, and there wasn’t live music either. People just decorated the trees on their own at different times in 2020. 2021 details, however, are expected to be comparable to 2019.
At the tree decorating party and lighting ceremony of the Dundarave Christmas Fair in a previous year, the performance schedule was as follows:
- 1:30 pm – Capilano University Jazz Quintet
- 2:30 pm – The Hot Mammas
- 3:30 pm – West Vancouver Youth Band
- 3:30 pm – Tree lighting Ceremony
Dundarave Nativity Paddle Songs
From around noon until dusk on Saturday, December 7th of 2019, the Dundarave Nativity Paddle Songs happened. This is always a First Nations’ event which includes the music of local songwriters as well as traditional songs by Squamish Elders.
To give you an idea of what to expect, performers at the festival in the past have included the following. For future events, details are expected to be similar.
- 12:00 pm – Squamish Elder Wendy Charbonneau and Friends
- 1:00 pm – St. Thomas Aquinas High School Choir
- 2:00 pm – Tsleil-Waututh Children of Takaya Dancers
- 3:00 pm – Black Pontiac Garage Funk
World Christmas Concerts
In years when there isn’t a pandemic, Dundarave’s World Christmas takes place from around noon until dusk on the third Saturday in December and features an international theme. In previous years it showcased French, Mariachi and Celtic music. 2021 details are likely to be similar.
Performers at the event from a couple of years ago included the following:
- 12:00 pm – The Viper Central Duo
- 1:00 pm – Vancouver Morris Men
- 2:00 pm – Royal Canadian Scottish Country Dance and Ceilidh (community dancing)
- 3:00 pm – Burstin’ with Broadway
- 4:00 pm – Tiddly Cove Morris Dancers
Wassail & Bonfire Night
The last Saturday before Christmas Day is Christmas Wassail & Bonfire Night, which is usually from around 3:00 until 9:30 pm. It is the final main event of the festival. Festival goers enjoy a large bonfire, the company of lots of people and a visit from Santa Claus. In 2019 it took place on Saturday, December 21st. There was no Christmas Wassail & Bonfire Night in 2020. Hopefully it can happen again in 2021.
To give you an idea of what to expect in the future, details of the event from a couple of years ago on the Saturday just before Christmas are listed below. Details for future events are expected to be similar.
- 3:00 pm – Best Christmas Pageant
- 4:00 pm – Blackthorn Band
- 5:00 pm – Bonfire Lighting
- 5:30 to 7:00 pm – The Wooly Bears and Square Dancing
- 7:00 pm – Santa
At the event in past years there have also been performances by Circus Kids, an illuminated kayak flotilla, and carolling until the bonfire’s coals die down.
Also in the Area
While in the area, consider combining your trip to the Dundarave Festival of Lights with a visit to other nearby places of interest. The Beach House is a popular restaurant right beside the event venue at Dundarave. Just be sure to make reservations in advance though, especially on Saturdays in years when there are live events outside at the beach.
Dundarave is also right on the water and connected to Ambleside by the seawall, making the area a great place for walks. And finally, just a couple of minutes away is the West Vancouver Aquatic Centre which has one of the region’s best swimming pools, making it a fabulous place to visit most years if you have kids or want some indoor exercise.
Other places to check out on the North Shore this time of year are the Local Ski Hills (which also offer snowshoeing, tubing and other winter activities). There are also Christmas attractions like Canyon Lights at Capilano Suspension Bridge, the Peak of Christmas at Grouse Mountain, and the Holiday Hi-Light Festival at the Park and Tilford Gardens in North Vancouver.
And if all those amazing places aren’t enough, just on the other side of the Lions Gate Bridge are the millions of Christmas lights at Bright Nights in Stanley Park. In 2020 the Pacific National Exhibition was also hosting PNE WinterLights in December, and the multi-dimensional film Soar Over Canada shows at FlyOver Canada.
For more information on the West Vancouver event, see the Dundarave Festival of Lights website.
If you like Christmas lights and festive activities, other events to check out include PNE WinterLights and FlyOver Canada at Christmas in Vancouver. Places like Granville Island also have beautiful Christmas illuminations this time of year.
For more ideas on places to see Christmas lights in the Lower Mainland, check out Top Things to do at Christmas.
And for more fun things to do in December, check out Vancouver’s December Calendar.